Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1970’s, I became keenly aware of the emerging protest, “Marriage is just a piece of paper!” That protest was not just a fleeting trend. In a 2010 Time magazine article, “Who Needs Marriage: A Changing Institution” (Nov 18, 2010), Belinda Luscombe states, “When an institution so central to human experience suddenly changes shape in the space of a generation or two, it’s worth trying to figure out why.” According to a Pew Research Center poll in 2010, “What we found is that marriage, whatever its social, spiritual or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be. Neither men or women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children.” Results of the 2012 US Census, reveal that 2/3 of couples married in 2012 shared a home together for more than two years before getting married. And no wonder, if our previous understanding of marriage was reduced to no more than a way to get what we viewed as necessary.
These are just a sampling of the scripts our kids will hear repeated over and over in the world they encounter:
· Sex has very little relationship to marriage and weddings.
· Sex as a dating practice hurts no one as long as it is consensual.
· Loving someone gives us the right to consensual sex with him or her.
· Celibacy is a cruel and unusual punishment.
· Sex is an essential ingredient for happiness.
· Marriage is a right.
· Marriage is unnecessary and optional.
· Monogamy is largely unrealistic.
· Be with the one you love no matter the cost.
· The institution of marriage is simply an institution that has little meaning for today.
· A wedding is the ultimate party and the culmination of all of our dreams.
· The marriage ceremony is just the precursor to the wedding celebration.
Although it can be tempting to respond to all of the above with a furrowed brow and head shaking, I wonder if a large part of the responsibility for this fog that surrounds marriage lies with us as Christ followers. For many years, we’ve relied on “the rules” to guide young people in the direction of marriage. And we’ve asked our teens to wait until marriage for sex by challenging them to sign pledge cards and wear purity rings. However, we’ve been crippled by our inability to cast a vision for the meaning of sex, marriage and weddings. If you’re like me, you grew up in church youth groups, choosing to obey the rules (or not) but unable to give compelling answers to emerging questions surrounding the “why” and ”what for” of marriage. This failure, in spite of the nurturing and education I received in church culture, was due to my rules based visionless understanding. I was left virtually helpless to guide others beyond passing on what was given to me, as well as finding that I didn't have what I needed to sustain life-giving choices of my own.
How do we find our way out of the fog so that we can help our kids catch a vision of truth more profound and compelling than the rules? We have to admit that the rules have failed us. As we continue to publish blog posts in the next couple of months, we’ll be looking to Jesus’ teaching for clarity. If you’d like to access our podcasts on the topic in addition, you can find them here.
We’ll begin with a rather surprising statement made by Jesus in Matthew 22:30. The Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) were stalking Jesus one day and thought they might stump Him with a question about the fate of a woman who died after living through seven deceased husbands with no children! Their question reveals the reality of their hidden agenda, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be?” Jesus answer: “You are mistaken, not understanding the scripture nor the power of God. For in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
What? No marriage in heaven? That means no sex or romance in heaven either?? If we’re honest, even Christ followers have been so influenced by culture that we’ve bought into the idea that finding “the one” or sexual experiences or a Christ-centered marriage or some combination are prerequisite for a satisfying and full life. In fact, we may not be aware of these assumptions we’ve made, but when we or our friends find ourselves in a state of singleness, we urgently seek to remedy the situation with an immediate search for a new partner. If it’s true then that life isn’t meaningful and fulfilling apart from sex or marriage, then how is it possible for eternity in heaven to be a place of abundant and flourishing life? Maybe we need to rethink. Maybe the essence of all that we’re really longing for during the earthly trek of our lives is MORE.
I’m going to leave you in suspense with many unanswered questions until next month’s blog. Until then, it might be interesting to notice assumptions and statements that surround the topics of marriage, sex and weddings. If you come up with some, we’d love to have you enter the conversation and post them below.
We also continue to encourage you to read our blogs and listen to our podcasts in the order that they have appeared. You can find them all here or here. Even better, attend one of our workshops or invite us to bring a workshop to you. We also send out a bi-monthly subscriber newsletter with event announcements and new resources. You can subscribe here (at the bottom of the page). It really is our passion to help you talk to kids about the body, sex and relationships in a way that will lead to a life that flourishes!